Sunday in Outer Blogness: Money money money edition!!

In case you missed it, Jeremy Runnells just won X-Mormon of the Year 2016, and the nominations for the Brodie Awards will continue until Thursday, January 19 — so get your final nominations in here! (Also note the Wheat & Tares blog is also collecting nominations for their yearly awards.)

Thanks to some new revelations on Mormon Leaks, we now know a little more about how modest those modest stipends for the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS really are (spoiler: not very). Naturally this led to some discussion over Mormonism’s claims of not having a paid ministry and a bit of anger a the church for telling poor people to pay tithing before necessities like rent and food. The church countered by claiming the salaries don’t come from tithing funds, whatever that is supposed to mean.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is still set on its shameful course, and the weak excuses aren’t fooling the international members.

Remember when M. Russell Ballard asked “If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do?” Well, this new website gives you the opportunity to tell him! Check out this response from Dad’s Primal Scream. He also had some good news to report — a big mistake was averted.

In other life journeys, Monica is navigating divorce after kids, iGenIvy set a goal to enjoy the journey, and Paul Duane is out drinking with his Mormon family:

Many years ago, my own falling away became known to the family. This was ushered in one Christmas night as we were wrapping up a family party. My parents went home, my daughters returned to their mother’s house, leaving just the three of us kids together. Wine emerged from Camille’s cupboard. Glasses were poured, glasses were raised and we partook of the goodness of the grape together for the first time. Something shifted in a way that’s difficult to account for – it may suffice to say that we found ourselves three grown adults with things in common that only we could have. It’s like some kind of pretense disappeared and left us honest. I found new friendship in my brother and sister. From that day forward, I’ve enjoyed their companionship in a way that starts to give ironic legitimacy to the promises of the church.

In Mormon culture, Utah made international news by distributing sexist dating tips as part of an assignment in a public school.

In church history, Mithryn analysed the origins of the LDS.org Book of Abraham essay. In scripture study, Mormonism has some interesting theology:

Jesus mentions in verse 30 that no one from the generation he’s addressing will be “lost.” But he mourns the fourth generation in verse 32, because they will be “led away captive by him even as was the son of perdition.”

But if Jesus knows this, why didn’t he design his world and his generations in such a way that those people wouldn’t be led away? And if he couldn’t because doing so would defeat free agency, then are we really just souls in a vast generational lottery? If I’d been lucky enough to have been born in the second Nephite generation following Christ’s appearance, I’d never have turned apostate?

And now that Jesus has been publicly recorded saying that the fourth generation will be wicked, it has to happen, right? Because he can’t be wrong. But these people are supposed to be able to make their own choices. But isn’t it technically predetermined now because Jesus says he already knows what they’re going to do?

Speaking of theology, how about this theology of gay marriage within Mormonism:

So, if most people won’t be exalted, and heterosexual marriage is required only for exaltation, what’s wrong with gay marriage? Even if you accept the idea that gay people can’t be exalted, what’s wrong with people deciding they’re fine with being a ministering angel? It’s not that crazy of an aspiration – as far as I can tell, this is the goal of most Christians, right?

And have you gotten a look at the news lately? If you’re having trouble keeping your spirits up these days, at least we have the CoJCoL-dS to distract us from the really bad news out there! 😀

City Creek Center – breeding cynicism

I’m an alumnus of the University of Utah.  As an alumnus, I get their alumni magazine, Continuum.  With all of the other stuff I have to read, I rarely read the magazine all that closely.  I typically just skim through the articles, looking for anything that might seem interesting.  The latest issue was fine, but one thing did catch my eye – an advertisement for City Creek Center.

We all know that City Creek Center is a for-profit shopping center owned by the LDS Church.  That, in itself, breeds a fair amount of cynicism about the motives of the Church.  But the ad went so, so much further.  Here’s the full page advertisement in its entirety:

Full page advertisement in Continuum.
Full page advertisement in Continuum.

You’re probably already seeing some of the issues with this ad, but, in case you don’t, let me go ahead and point out the most obvious ones for you.

First, the women (presumably – I don’t want to gender people, but let’s go with that intended perception) in the upper left quadrant aren’t dressed “modestly” by Church standards:

No garments.
No garments.

I, of course, think there is nothing wrong with this.  But, in a church that photoshops sleeves on little girls to make them appear more modest, this seems a little cynical to me.  It’s like the Church is saying, “City Creek Center isn’t really for Mormons.”

On to the guy on the right.  See any problems given what the LDS Church teaches its members about “proper” dress?

Who is this ex-Mormon?
Who is this ex-Mormon?

It doesn’t get much more “heathen” than this guy.  No garments, obviously!  A man-bun?  And facial hair?  My old stake president would be calling him in for a worthiness interview instantly.  Yeah, he may be physically fit and attractive, but temple recommend holder he is not.  Again, what message is City Creek Center sending with this particular picture?

Now for the coup de grace, this smaller photo:

That's not water in that glass.
That’s not water in that glass.

The two glasses on the right very well could be water.  Of course, vodka and a variety of other liquors are transparent, too, so it may be something else.  And giving that they are clinking their glasses together and saying something like “cheers,” I’m inclined to think it’s not water (though the middle individual sure has a lot of whatever is in her glass if it’s not water).  Regardless of the two on the right, the glass on the left is definitely not water.  Perhaps it’s carbonated apple juice, ’cause, sure, that’s what they have in stock at the various restaurants in City Creek Center, right?  But cynical old me is thinking that’s a white wine.  What, then, is the take away from this last image in the advertisement?  Come to City Creek Center where we have alcohol, you can get inebriated, and have fun doing it (they are all smiling, even if the guy on the left is more smirking than smiling).

Overall, then, this ad for City Creek Center – the for profit shopping center run by the LDS Church – is conveying all of the following: we sell clothing that isn’t garment friendly for all genders, it’s okay for men to have long hair and beards, and drinking is fun.  Hmmm… Isn’t that interesting.  Seems like a rather cynical ploy by LDS, Inc. to increase the bottom line at the expense of the values they teach their members.  I can’t help but also note that this ad was in an alumni magazine from the University of Utah.  I’m sure LDS, Inc. would run a different ad in a BYU alumni magazine.

The cynicism of the leaders of LDS, Inc. to put out an advertisement like this should be pretty shocking to me (but it’s not).  It’s like their not even trying to hide their profit-seeking behind “family values” any more.  This ad is a straight up sales pitch to get people to come to City Creek Center and violate the moral teachings of the Church.  Congratulations, LDS, Inc., you win the award for most cynical advertisement of the year!

Missionary Chat: Philadelphia Apartment Building

I had another question I wanted to run by some Mormons: Why is the LDS Church building a for-profit, 32 story apartment building in Philadelphia?  Same rules as before…

Bob (me): Hello?

Ken: How can we help you today?

Bob: I have a question about the LDS Church.

Casey: Great! We’ll do our best to help.

Bob: Why is the LDS Church building a multimillion dollar, 32 story apartment building in Philadelphia?

Casey: The Church practices what it teaches when it comes to finances. They have a couple for profit companies that pay taxes and such that the Church uses as a sort of “rainy day fund”. If something were to happen, the Church would be able to take care of a lot of people for a long time.  That being said, when good investment opportunities come up, they take them, in addition, property ones like this, I have noticed are used to help areas economically as well.  The lot that the high rise will be built on will help the area around the Temple that the Church is also building there.

Bob: Okay. Thanks.

Casey: Does that make sense.

Bob (Since he asked me a question, I decided I would ask another): Well, how exactly does the LDS Church “take care of people” with this money?

Casey: Most of the for profit businesses the Church has are farms and land and such. They could easily turn that into a way to feed a lot of people in an emergency.  As far as I understand as well, some of the farms are used to supply our Church’s welfare program, where they help feed member families that are struggling as well as humanitarian efforts where our Church sends tons and tons of food and packages to countries in need (e.g., the typoon in Phillipines

Bob: And the apartments in Philadelphia contribute to that effort?

Casey: I’m not sure what the apartments in Phili will be used for. Sometimes I’m sure the church does it to build up their actual cash rainy day fund, I’m not sure exactly.

Bob: Okay. Thanks. Much obliged.

Casey: You bet, can I ask what sparked your question originally?

Bob: Sure. I read the news article about it in the New York Times.

Casey: Great! Do you know much more about our faith?

Bob: A fair amount, yes.

Casey: Yeah, the way the Church handles their finances really adds to my testimony that it is ran by inspiration. The Church will never go into debt. They won’t dedicate a Church building unless it is paid for in full. They are good stewards of what God gives them. Money is just another opportunity to take care of something that God has given us.  Especially in today’s society when a lot of Americans and businesses, or governments are not very responsible with money.  We know that everything we have and every opportunity we get is from God and so we should treat it that way.  I hope that all makes sense?

Bob: Sure.  Though, how do you know how the LDS Church manages it’s finances. They aren’t public record, are they?

Casey: No, dollar amounts are not public, but some of the principles they follow are.

Bob: Okay. Thanks.

Casey: You bet!  Bob, would you be interested in talking to full-time missionaries in your area?

Bob: No. But thank you for asking.

Ken: ok. well is there anything else we can assist you with today?

Bob: Nope. That’s plenty. Thank you.  Have a good day.

Casey: You as well Bob, thanks for coming online to ask!

Bob: Bye.

Do Mormons really believe these explanations?

Missionary Chat: Florida Property

In case you didn’t catch it, the LDS Church now owns 2% of the state of Florida.  Since I try not to bug my still Mormon family members about the LDS Church very often, I decided to go to the always available source for thoughts on this: Missionary Chat.  My rules for the chat were simple: ask the missionary (turns out there were two) why the LDS Church was buying so much property in Florida, wait for the answer, then say goodbye.  I wasn’t trying to pick a fight or anything, I just wanted to know what a missionary would say (so convenient).  Here’s the transcript (I’m Bob):

David (Really?  Isn’t it Elder Johnson or something?): Hi, how are you?

Bob: Fine. How are you?

David: great thanks! How can we help you today?

Bob: I have a questions about the LDS Church. I’m wondering why the LDS Church owns 2% of the state of Florida.

David: I wasn’t aware of that… What do they own in Florida?

Bob: Hundreds of thousands of acres of property. Deseret Citrus and Cattle Ranch.

David: Oh ok.

Bob: And they just bought another ranch in the panhandle used for timber. Why does a church own so much for-profit property?

Kevin (his companion, I suppose): So a lot of this ties into the churches welfare program. The food or objects produced goes to help people where they need it. Here is a link that expalians a little more on this.

Bob: Okay. Thanks.

Kevin: Ya no problem! Are there any other questions that we can help you with.

Bob: Nope. That’s it. Have a good day.

Kevin: Okay! Have a great day Bob!

So, David had no idea, and Kevin gave the apologetic response, which doesn’t make sense.  Can’t feed timber or shell rock to people without food.  Off to a good start.  I’m going to keep asking my ever-present missionaries questions to see what they know.  Should be fun.

Mithryn’s breakdown of the lawsuit against Monson. Has it got a chance?

Full text here

I’ve done some digging on the 2006 fraud act, and the 7 claims that are specifically mentioned in the brief may not hold up.

Of them, most claims (Nauvoo expositor was full of lies, Book of Abraham legitimacy, DNA and indians, etc.) were made publically before Jan 15th 2007, so they don’t apply to the law.

However, if Tom can show correspondence between himself or others and the General Authorities claiming these things, that might suffice.

Further the church can use Monson’s Alzheimers or “I cannot recall” as a defense at any time, but that might cost them.

Click on full text for legal breakdown and links.

MSP post stolen and Mormons stumping

I caught two interesting news stories in my news feed this morning. First is this article in the Tampa Bay Tribune about the LDS Church being one of the largest land owners in the state of Florida: Mormon church is large landowner in Florida. The information provided in the article is EERILY FAMILIAR, as in, it’s basically a duplicate of my post here on MSP from 2009: LDS Inc owns .7% of Florida. I guess it wouldn’t look so good for the reporter, Kevin Wiatrowski, if he cited a website critical of the LDS Church as his source for the article, but plagiarizing a blog post for a news article probably wouldn’t look so good on a resume either. Do me a favor, if you would, and go comment on that article asking Mr. Wiatrowski where he came up with the idea for his article. My guess is that he did a Google search using the words “Mormon” and “Florida” and saw my post as the #1 link, then stole my idea. I could be wrong though.

The second news article that caught my attention didn’t get as much play in the big press as did the fact that Mitt was “Newt-ed” in South Carolina: young Mormons arrived by the busload to stump for Mitt. Since they were young, loud, and energetic, it gave the impression that Mitt had momentum in South Carolina. Um, yeah, not so much. When a reporter questioned their enthusiasm, they admitted they weren’t from South Carolina but rather from D.C. and Utah. It didn’t help Mitt in the end, but I call shenanigans nonetheless.

Pity Party for LDS, Inc./City Creek Reserve Inc.

The Salt Lake Tribune has an article up noting that LDS Inc./City Creek Reserve is having a hard time selling its downtown condos. I know I feel bad for LDS, Inc. I mean, why build condos except to make a profit, right? And City Creek Reserve Inc. really doesn’t have enough money. According to the Salt Lake County Assessor’s Office, they only have $422 million in property they own in Salt Lake County. God needs more. And that means selling condos. And who doesn’t want to live in a condo in a tower owned by LDS, Inc.? What could possibly be wrong with that?

I can’t help but also mention that they started construction in 2008, just after the beginning of the economic recession. They are now lowering prices on the condos. So much for the gift of prophecy on that one…

All those who would like to join me in a vote of thanks to City Creek Reserve Inc. for wisely using the Lord’s money, please do so with a raised hand. All those opposed, comment below. 😉

Anyone interested in talking with a reporter?

Hey MSP readers:

I was recently contacted by a reporter from a prominent magazine who is doing a story on Mormons and business. The initial angle for the story was, “Why are Mormons so good at business?” But, in chatting with me, she has realized that all may not be as it seems. As the Eyre’s recently made clear, Mormons are not particularly good at business compared to, say, Jews.

I pitched the reporter some additional angles on this question, like the following: Mormon culture, particularly at the ward level, rewards people in the middle class. Leaders in Mormonism have to be literate and generally educated. They also tend to be quite successful. When was the last time you saw a janitor “promoted” to general authority status? Why are all the apostles former executives or have otherwise been successful in their careers? Why no business failures or bankrupt small business owners among the Mormon elite?

And, at a very basic level, Mormonism encourages people to behave in middle class ways: The way you dress to go to church (nice dresses or skirts for women; white shirts, ties, slacks, andpreferablya suit coat for men; both are indicative of the attire middle class professionals wear to work), the way you act at church (not speaking in tongues, no “hallelujahs,” etc.), are all typical of the middle class. What I suggested is that people who do not feel comfortable in that type of environment won’t be likely to stay. As a result, Mormons appear to be uniformly middle class.

I also suggested that there is a strong culture to appear successful in Mormonism, which ties into the Multi-Level Marketing efforts abundant in Utah, especially Provo, and the high bankruptcy rates.

The reporter had not seen this angle because, well Mormons tend to prefer to highlight their successes (e.g., famousmormons.net), not their failures (the thousands who file for bankruptcy every year or leave the religion because they feel pressured to keep up with the Joneses). I can’t fault Mormons for that; I do the same on my C.V. and my annual evals.

Anyway, in discussing this with the reporter, she was wondering if I knew anyone who:

  1. Left the religion because he/she felt the pressure to conform to middle class norms and didn’t like it.
  2. Was unsuccessful at business or had filed for bankruptcy in the pursuit of success (either still Mormon or not).

She is interested in talking with someone in either of those categories who would be willing to be “on the record” for her magazine story. If you’re interested, you can email me directly (profxm -at- gmail.com) or just make a note of it in the comments and I’ll pass your contact information to the reporter. And even if you don’t meet those criteria, if you know anyone who does, please contact them and send them my way.

Oh, and if you want, you’re welcome to just comment on the thoughts I mentioned in this post: Are Mormons disproportionately good at business? Does Mormonism present itself as “middle class”? And, are Mormons pressured to appear successful?

Final note: Seth, given your work, I’m particularly interested in your thoughts on this.

#LDSconf pre-show discussion: Should the LDS church reveal its finances?

As Provo, Utah’s Daily Herald noted back in 2007:

It clearly doesn’t want to. In the 2001 case, for example, it avoided disclosure by settling with the plaintiff for $3 million.

Some find it strange that rank-and-file Mormons are not privy to the financial workings of the church even though they may donate large sums of money through tithing and other offerings. They are called members, but membership has no privileges. Church members, unlike stockholders in a corporation, have no vote. The reward for their faith is generally intangible.

Many other churches have full disclosure.

And in the Wikipedia entry about LDS finances, it’s noted that:

The LDS church maintains an internal audit department that provides its certification at each annual general conference that LDS church contributions are collected and spent in accordance with LDS church policy.

Which raises a second question:

What is LDS church policy regarding the use of donated funds?

Because stories like the ones below can leave a person wondering.

1) In 2009, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Canada sent $40 million to BYU and spent $17 million on salaries. Link.

2) From 2004-2009, UK Mormons collected $3.6 million in Humanitarian Fund donations and disbursed only $322K. Scroll down to comment #31 at this link.

3) Speaking of the UK church, its general assets are depreciating at the rate of 6,000,000 annually. Really?

4) Does the LDS church really need to be in the business of owning hunting preserves? Link.

5) And another MSP post that has generated all kinds of interest: LDS Inc. owns .7% of Florida

6) By the way, I haven’t yet listened to this 2007 Mormon Matters podcast, but I agree with the panelist who noted in comments that the LDS church has plenty of good reasons to be involved in SLC city planning and commercial development.

7) And a closing thought from a commenter at one of the other Mormon podcast sites:

I’ve heard that the Catholic Church increased its donations substantially when it began publishing full financial disclosures.

Could be. But as the years of undisclosed financial operation pile higher, it only gets harder to contemplate changing the policy. For example, would Mormons be upset to learn just how much the LDS church spends each year to persuade plaintiffs (like the one mentioned at the top of this post) to settle lawsuits and sign non-disclosure agreements?

Reminder: With General Conference around the corner, be sure to attach the #LDSconf hashtag to all your tweets. Or #twitterstake for those who’d like to join the Internet’s largest and loudest General Conference pep rally. Bonus points for bearing your tweetimony.